Some of us are jumping into in-person situations in parishes and schools, others are continuing to facilitate virtual formation. Many of us are doing a bit of column A and a bit of column B. In-person situations mean temperatures may have to be taken, masks and constant sanitizing will be required or at least strongly recommended, and a thousand considerations will have to be made about social distancing and contact. Virtual situations mean technological concerns, new safe environment considerations, and tough challenges in terms of engagement.
There is a whole lot to balance—and balance it we must, because the battle for the minds and hearts of youth is raging—big time.
Whether ministry to youth happens in a parish, school, or even our own homes we can’t forget—especially in the middle of a pandemic—the minister to their human needs. For young people—heck, for all people—that means we need to find ways to play, interact, smile, and laugh. On a deeper level it means being seen, known and loved by an ambassador of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20).
An instinct kicked in while taking the temperatures of masked and hurried teenagers as they arrived for their first full day of school today.
“Odds or evens?” I asked.
My first customer didn’t skip a beat: “Evens.”
“97.4. Congratulations!” I eye smiled from behind my mask and she headed into the building.
The whole exchange, fueled by my incurable penchant for dad jokiness, added all of a half of second to every temperature taken, and hopefully added a simple human exchange to the whole new situation (even if it also added a bit of playful eye-rolling).
When I returned my thermometer I had a deeper thought about how important it is and will be to find ways to work simple moments of humanity, humor, and caring into the fall. Things are so different that it is easy to get lost in the business side of COVID response. It is easy to click, “MARK AS DONE,” in the Google Classroom of life rather than being truly present and joyful. It was easy enough to do that in February of 2020, but now, weary from pandemic life, it is an even bigger temptation.
How can we remain joyful and really present to our youth? How can we engage their human need for fun, levity and human connection? Here are three ideas:
1. Don’t skip the ice breakers.
Whether in person or online, don’t let COVID procedures get in the way of activities that help you remember names and interests. Make sure you find ways to check in on the social and emotional well being of the youth in your care. How?
- Try taking attendance (and even check temperatures) with a question that everyone must answer like:
- the last thing you watched
- favorite ice cream
- a favorite saint
- something you learned to do during quarantine
- your go-to way to cool down.
- Play stand (or thumbs up if on Zoom) if you, for example:
- hit snooze this morning
- fell asleep with your phone in your hand
- lost something
- prefer being hot to being cold.
- Play name that tune. Play a short snippet of music and see who can guess the song title the most quickly.
- Experiment with ways to adapt your favorite in-classroom icebreakers to video conferencing or to a socially distant classroom.
2. Make it a habit to smile and check in.
- Eyes can still smile behind masks.
- “How’s it going?” and “How’s your day going?” might have been small-talky before, but can be meaningful questions in 2020.
- Call by name.
3. Pray more intentionally to find fuel.
- Pray for your students and youth by name.
- Burned out? See Luke 5:16 for instructions.
- Since your daily habits are probably different, be sure to prioritize and carve out a prayer time that works for you.
Working with youth in parishes and schools was challenging in the fall of 2019—in the fall of 2020 it’s going to take some serious grit. Our young people need us to joyfully and prayerfully rise to the challenge and we need to be connected co-workers in the vineyard who share ideas and even frustrations. Feel free to chime in with yours in the comments below. Let’s pray for one another!
Here are some quotes from some saints to encourage you and remind you of what’s important, as you work through these new struggles:
“A school without music is a school without a soul, for music aids education. It is a most effective means to obtain discipline, morality, and help good feeling … ”St. John Bosco
What would happen if we hid what little sense of humor we had? Let each of us humbly use this to cheer others.St. Teresa of Avila
“Laugh and grow strong.”St. Ignatius of Loyola
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Colin MacIver teaches theology and has served as the religion department chair and campus ministry coordinator at St. Scholastica Academy in Covington, Louisiana. He is the author of the guide to Quick Catholic Lessons with Fr. Mike. He and his wife, Aimee, are co-authors and presenters of Theology of the Body for Teens Middle School Edition. They are also co-authors of the Power and Grace Guidebook, and the Chosen Parent’s and Sponsor’s Guides. Colin hosts The Tightrope podcast.